Thursday, October 8, 2009


How to make char cloth to start a fire.

Char cloth is a lot like it sounds.  Charred cloth.  In this edition of fire starters I will teach you how to make char cloth.  Here's what you'll need.

1.  A tin that has a fairly tight lid.
2.  100% cotton cloth that you don't mind burning :)
3.  Fire (yes in this case it takes fire to make fire in the future)

This is a pretty simple process, however it may take a few tries to get perfect char cloth.  First you'll need to prep your tin.  If your tin is completely sealed, you'll need to use a small nail to punch a hole in the center of the lid.  I use a square Altoids tin to make my char cloth.  It already has two small holes where the hinges are, so no extra holes were needed.  Once you have the ventilation done you may want to pre-burn your tin to get all of the paint burned off.  It should look something like this.

Once this is done you'll need to cut up your cotton cloth into pieces that fit flat on the bottom of your tin (or smaller).  If you don't have an old tee shirt that you can part with you can use gun cleaning swatches.  They are the perfect size and are also very cheap.  In a tin this size I try to use fewer than ten thin pieces of cloth.  If you are using a cotton tee shirt about six pieces will do.  It should look something like this.

Now all you have to do is close up the tin and throw it into some hot coals in your fire.  Try to avoid the open flames.  Once it is in the fire a lot of smoke will come out of the hole you made.  Once the smoke stops (a minute or two) then your char cloth is done!  Remove the tin from the coals and let it cool.  When you open it you should see this.

The char cloth should be nice and black.  If it looks brown then put it back in for a minute or two.  After a few tries you'll be making perfect char cloth. 

The idea behind char cloth is that it will catch and hold a spark very easily so you can get your tinder to flame up.  I like to make a tinder nest with frayed twine and lay a piece of char cloth on top like this.

Now all you need to do is throw a spark onto your charcloth and gently blow.  You'll get a fire every time.  I use a Swedish fire steel for this purpose.  There will be a review of the Swedish fire steel after this series.  Below is an image that shows how nicely the char cloth holds a spark.

In the next few weeks (when I can get out of the city and go camping or hiking) I will make a video of char cloth in action and give you a better idea of how to start a fire with it.
Hope you enjoyed this.  More to come.

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